Old Ephraim: The Legendary Grizzly of the Bear River Range: The Reality

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The Reality

Close Quarters with Old Ephraim, an illustration from Theodore Roosevelt’s Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (1885). Old Ephraim was a general term used for grizzly bears in the late nineteenth century. 
(USU Special Collections & Archives, Book Collection 16, R-67)

Like any great legend, the Old Ephraim story is a mix of danger, excitement, and a little honest exaggeration. The earliest published account, a 1928 Nature Magazine interview with Frank Clark entitled “A Wasatch Grizzly,” is the closest we have to a contemporary retelling of the event, but we now know even some of these claims were likely clouded by the intensity of the moment and the fogginess of time. Subsequent retellings have further blurred the line between fact and fiction.  

For example, there is some confusion surrounding the bear’s name. “Old Ephraim” was not in fact a name unique to the Utah bear; it was a general term for grizzlies used in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American West. In his 1885 book, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Teddy Roosevelt used the name to identify a different bear that roamed Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, though Clark claimed the Utah grizzly was named after a bear in a P. T. Barnum story. Either way, the name was probably derived from Ephraim, a figure in the Bible’s book of Genesis.[1]

It is also unlikely that Old Ephraim stood 9 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed over half a ton. Judging by the size of his skull, experts at the University of Montana’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Program estimate that Old Ephraim was 7 feet, 6.5 inches tall and around 550 pounds. He was still a larger than average grizzly, just not as big as the stories suggest.[2]

[1] Nora Dunne Slauson, “Old Ephraim, The Last Grizzly Bear in Logan Canyon,” <SS 236, Box 7, Folder 29, Page 4, The Jensen Historical Farm Research Collection, 1961–1993, Utah State University Special Collections & Archives, Logan, UT, http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/Ephraim/id/132/rec/36; Man Meets Grizzly: Encounters in the Wild from Lewis and Clark to Modern Times, comp. Coralie Beyers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), 292, 979.2524 Ep38, Old Ephraim File, General Book Collection, USU Special Collections & Archives, Logan, UT.
[2] Jennifer Fortin-Noreus, email message to Clint Pumphrey, June 24, 2019.
[3] Frank Clark, “Frank Clark Letter,” USU 18:17, Box 3, Folder 10a, Utah Agriculture Experiment Station Directors Files, 1902–1988, Utah State University Special Collections & Archives, Logan, UT.
[4] Ralph Roberts, “History of Cache National Forest, Volume 2 (Section 8)” 1940, MSS 491, Box 7, Folder 4, Cache National Forest, Utah State University Special Collections & Archives, Logan, UT.
[5] Frank Clark “True Bear Story” 1952, 979.2524 Ep38, Folder A, Utah State University Special Collections & Archives, Logan, UT.